Sunday, August 04, 2013

Creeping Mundanity at Pennsic

(This post is about the SCA, a historical recreation group with which I have been involved for many years—readers unfamiliar with it can get some of the context from essays of mine in the Miscellany, a book my wife and I self-publish.)

Over the years, Pennsic has gotten both better and worse. There is an increasing amount of period mass entertainment such as the shows put on by the commedia del arte troupes, more interesting period work at the A&S exhibition and in the university classes and, I think, a gradually rising ratio of period tents to modern tents. But I think there is also a gradual increase in the acceptance of strikingly out of period things at Pennsic, including entirely unnecessary ones.

The clearest example of the latter this year was the sign, shown below, outside the lost and found tent. It is a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a popular science-fiction book that not only has nothing to do with the middle ages or the SCA but deals with subjects such as aliens, space travel, and the like, strikingly inconsistent with what the SCA is about. There were other references to the book scattered about the Pennsic pamphlet and elsewhere, all inspired by the fact that this was Pennsic 42 and the number 42 has a special significance in Hitchiker, but this one was obvious even to someone who had never heard of the book. The population of the world was not 6.8 billion at any point in SCA period and if it had been it would not have been expressed in exponential notation.

My conclusion was that at least some of the people responsible for running this year’s Pennsic viewed the SCA as part of science fiction fandom. It is, I suppose, an understandable mistake for someone heavily involved in fandom—sf cons often have SCA demos at them, after all. But it is still a mistake. There has always been a substantial overlap between the two groups, but also many people in the SCA who have no connection to fandom; my impression is that the fraction of such has increased over time. Perhaps more important, the spirit of the two groups is very different. The SCA centers on recreation of real world history, fandom on fiction. Wearing elf ears at an sf con is entirely appropriate, clearly inappropriate (which is not to say it does not happen) at an SCA event. Discussions of modern science and technology fit into a con but not an SCA event.

I found the sign particularly disturbing because it not only clashed with the medieval ambiance, it implied that such clashing was not merely tolerable but a good thing, part of what was being presented by the people running the event. It is hard to see how members of the Pennsic staff can object to elf ears or insist that “You can keep a trailer in your encampment for storage or living space, but it must be disguised to look period” (from the Pennsic web page) when they themselves are going out of their way to present something strikingly out of period.

There is always a temptation, in the SCA context, to make a joke out of the contrast between medieval and modern, as in songs about an SCA knight in chain mail going through an airport metal detector. Such jokes might have been funny the first ten or twenty times they were made, but that was decades ago. And every such joke makes it that much harder for participants to imagine, even for  a little while, that they are actually in the middle ages—something that is, I think, part of the attraction of the SCA, what some people like to describe as the magic.

There are other ways in which the activities of the people running Pennsic subverted the medieval ambiance and endorsed other people ignoring or subverting it. There may be good reasons why some staff people need walkie-talkies, but they ought to be used with a bad conscience, as unobtrusively as possible. There may be reasons why golf carts must occasionally be used for transportation but I find it hard to imagine any good reason why they should be nearly as common as they are. Now that practically everyone has a cell phone, all it takes is one security station somewhere, preferably out of sight, with a couple of golf carts and a few people, to make it possible to get security staff to any point at Pennsic where a problem requiring them arises. As best I can tell, security at Pennsic mirrors in miniature one problem of urban policing—that driving around in a police car is pleasanter than walking a beat but does less to discourage crime. Riding around in a golf cart is not only less work than walking, it marks you as a privileged individual—and humans like status.

So far I have been talking about mundanity creeping in at the top. The situation at the bottom, among ordinary participants, is more complicated. On the one hand, an increasing fraction of participants who cannot walk very far or up and down hill and so require some sort of transport make the effort to pretend that their motorized wheelchairs and similar devices are horses, with suitable modifications. It is not a very good solution, but it may well be the best solution practical.

On the other hand, my impression is that ornamental mundanity, things obviously inappropriate to the medieval ambiance done not for convenience but for show, is becoming increasingly common. The picture shows one example—an encampment one of whose structures was outlined in electric lights.

Within the SCA, any attempt to maintain a medieval ambiance is under pressure from two directions. One is the fact that doing things in a period way is often harder and less convenient than doing them in a modern way—one reason why, outside the SCA, modern technology exists. A Coleman stove is less trouble to turn on, turn off, and cook over than a campfire. A flashlight is a more convenient device than a candle lantern. If we insisted on doing everything in as completely period a way as possible we would do very little and there would be very few of us doing it—the mistake I think of as making the best the enemy of the good. The least unsatisfactory response to that problem, in my view, is to regard mundane conveniences as a necessary evil to be minimized but not eliminated—while at the same time using the problem of how to minimize them, how to provide period alternatives, as a valuable spur to learning more about how medieval people lived.

The second source of pressure is the attraction of the cheap joke. Learning enough about past societies to make medieval or renaissance humor—for example, commedia del arte performances—requires some effort. Wearing elf ears or making jokes about dragons does not. It is unfortunate but not, I think, surprising, that individual participants often yield to to the temptation. It is disturbing when the people running the event do so.


Unknown said...

Your Grace: Another data point.

Someone made beads for some of the Pennsic staff.

Glass beads, as many folks in the SCA make, but made in the shape of a Tardis.

David Friedman said...


That sort of thing doesn't bother me very much. Some SCA people are also sf people and there is no reason why they shouldn't have their ingroup jokes among themselves--provided they don't present them in a visible public manner.

Kyndylan said...

How about the Pennsic Medallions? I was made to understand that the phrase 'Don't Panic' was a reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide as well, being that it was Pennsic 42.

Unknown said...

I agree. I am fortunate to live in a camp where people believe in doing things in as period a way as possible. Our large common pavilion is lit by candle chandelier. There is a set of candle lanterns which whoever is in camp as night falls lights for all to use. We cook over the fire and when I was making dinner and dug into the spice basket I found poudre fort and poudre fine. It made me smile.

I think that those of us who do things this way need to keep doing what we do, making people see what is possible and trying to inspire the rest.

Madinia, Ealdormere said...

Kyndylan, I didn't find the medallion joke obtrusive, because 10 minutes after I got it it was suspended from my belt and ignored. They are so ignorable. I wish it hadn't been red though.
Your Grace, I agree. Foot patrols are better in most situations, though carts are helpful in situations where speedy response is crucial. When I was staff I was mildly embarrassed by my walkie, and I hid it in a fold of my skirt. I wish more would do something similar, rather than waving it about like a sign of status.
The things that I find most intrusive are the loud modern conversations, cars everywhere, and cell phones. People walking and texting or talking constantly is so annoying.
On the plus side, clothing standards are vastly improved recently, as are things like pavilions and equipment.

Michel Almond said...

I have come to expect subcultures popping up at pennsic. Vampires, Pirates, Goth, Steampunk etc. I see it as background noise and tend to ignore it. I saw the "Earth" sign and didn't get it. I thought I had gotten too much sun that day and continued walking to the A&S Display where I was amazed by the medieval prowess of those in attendance.

Anonymous said...

I've only been lucky enough to be able to attend one Pennsic in the 25 years since I discovered the SCA. Circumstances necessitated I drop out for several years. I am just now starting to get back.

One thing that annoyed me this year were the numerous pictures and posts on Facebook from people at Pennsic.

If I were to be lucky enough to visit Pennsic again, I would have to make use of some type of mechanical conveyance as I can't walk far. However, healthy vibrant young people should be able to walk.

Alisaundre Muir - Cum an Iolair

Anonymous said...

I've only been lucky enough to be able to attend one Pennsic in the 25 years since I discovered the SCA. Circumstances necessitated I drop out for several years. I am just now starting to get back.

One thing that annoyed me this year were the numerous pictures and posts on Facebook from people at Pennsic.

Lady Alisaundre Muir - Cum an Iolair
If I were to be lucky enough to visit Pennsic again, I would have to make use of some type of mechanical conveyance as I can't walk far. However, healthy vibrant young people should be able to walk.

Matthew Hooper said...

A lot of the golf-cart issue comes from the greying of the Society, I believe. There are a lot of volunteers who just can't walk from the battlefield to the Bog. The mobility scooters consistently bug me (how on earth do these people set up a camp?), but I saw a great deal more effort to disguise them, which pleased me greatly. A mobility scooter in the middle of Pennsic is as bad as a car, but dress it up like a horsie or a chariot and you'll charm my socks off.

Unknown said...

I truly detest the people in the SCA that forget the word Anachronism. These people just can't let other people do what is fun for them and try to define what fun should be for everyone. There are more absolutist historical groups out there for people who don't like the Anachronism. Please take your over-obsession with authenticity away.

Charles Mellor (Master Rashid) said...

I agree with everything you say here, but to me, the most annoying mordernism at Pennsic is the cell phone. Prior to their total ubiquity, I felt that one could settle into a pleasnatly medieval pace at Pennsic. Now that so many people have them, communications and responses have speed up to the point that their really is no sense of slowing down and experiencing a week of living at a pace that felt like I was in a medieval village.

Kaythia Star said...

Why would you expect an SCA experince out of an event that has not been SCA-ish for many, many years. If you want a medival experince, you do NOT go Pennsic.

It is MY OPINION that you are overthinking this event and it is illogical to expect the unreasonable. A medival experince at Pennsic is unreasonable.

My advice is to let this go. Find another event to forfill your expectations of a more period role.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your opinion. Part of the situation you talk about is due to the size of the event, communication, gold carts, etc.
I thought the theme of 42 and Hitchhikers Guide was cute. It did not offend me, but I respect the wishes of others too.
Discussion is good.
Thank you for your article.

David Friedman said...


An Anachronism is something out of its own time. Medieval things in the 21st century, such as medieval pavilions or commedia performances at Pennsic, are anachronisms. Modern things in the 21st century, such as electric lights at Pennsic, are not.

Roderic Hawkyns said...

I am on staff at Pennsic as Master Gunner and I agree, at least in part, with your comment. The whole theme of Pennsic being based on Hitchhiker did offend me. Why Pennsic needs a theme is beyond me, but it seems to be a tradition that is well entrenched among our Mayors.

As for some of the other issues, it's not so easy. I, at least, keep my radio in a leather shoulder bag with only the mike visible. Hiding them can be done. The golf carts are another issue. We do need them to haul equipment around and to get places in a hurry. In a period town of 12000 people there would be horses and carts everywhere. Due to our modern rules of hygene and liability, the golf cart is the next best thing that we have. someone posted (on one of the many crossposts of this article) that golfcarts were a sort of mark of the 'elite'. I don't have a problem with this. A medieval society should have a class structure, otherwise, why do we have peerages and other ranks?

Cellphones and cigarettes annoy the hell out of me, as do tricorne hats and 18th century pirates. Unfortunately, as the Society strives to be all things to all people, in it's bid to increase membership, I doubt we shall ever get rid of them.

Unknown said...

I came into the SCA about 10 or 12 years ago. Obviously Penssic is the culmination of events. I belong to a group that does things Period correct and we continue to strive for that. I truly wish the SCA would get back to basics put out a set of guide lines that people do real living history or you can not participate. The Si-Fi crap and out of period people should not be allowed because it takes away from the whole experience.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

When I started in the SCA, it wasn't about doing period things in period ways with period equipment and period methods. Anachronism was about melding the modern into the medieval. And, for the most part, I believe in doing things as period as possible. But, I find charm in plastic plate armor, the chemically glowing light in a story teller's staff, and women as warriors. All of these things are Anachronistic and parts of the SCA I spent more than half of my forty+ years enjoying. Going to pennsic and complaining about modern touches is like going to disney world and complaining about commercialism. There are events, even wars, for people who prefer a more period experience, but Pennsic has never been one of those. As far back as Pennsic 20 there were vampire fangs and elf ears and glow sticks. I wouldn't put up light cords on my sunshade, but I wouldn't judge someone who did so at Pennsic. While we see the timeline from our perspective, please remember that there is no proof the Heart of Gold hasn't at one point passed through the time period we are recreating. It is, actually infinitely improbable that is hasn't since, by it's very nature it passes through every point of space and time on it's way from any point A to any point B. It is, therefore, impossible for it to be out of time. Hmm I just countered myself. The hitchhiker guide actually cannot be anachronistic, so it doesn't belong in the SCA. Darnit and I was on such a roll too. Also, please don't take what I said earlier as telling you to go anywhere. It's just a hot-trigger for me when people get too into trying to make things authentic at the expense of others fun and, honestly, you probably didn't do that. As I said, it's a hot-button for me and I don't always think before I type when it comes up. Not that it would be better if I did think, in those times I tend to ramble. I hate it when I ramble.

Jenny said...

Keep in mind that the SCA started as a graduation party for a Lit major; in the early years, there was as much fantasy as fact. It is only in recent years that there's been a spreading group of pedants who insist on fantasy being divorced from the SCA.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the fact that the Society allows participants multiple, self-selected levels of historical immersion. It allows one to focus on as few / many areas of interest as desired--some (fewer every year, I think/hope) may be wearing "Teetunicus Genericus" while reproducing a period recipe from an underutilized source, another may be sitting under a nylon canopy while hand-tooling shoes. Or perhaps that's just in my circle of fellow travellers.

Having said that, I didn't think it was cute, or funny, or appropriate being forced (by Pennsic site rules)to wear a site token with a ubiquitous modern cultural reference on it. I, too, felt it did not belong where the organizers saw fit to stamp it. It's one thing to have a poster like the one described in a place where the staff could see it / enjoy it if they wanted to. It's different, and a less successful joke, to put the sign out front and expect everyone who sees it to fall in love with its "cuteness".

I have heard for years, in derogatory / abusive terms, about SCAdians who want to do things as historically as possible. I frequently hear terms flung which misuse the name of a German political party, as if not wanting to hear "The Moose Song" is in any way comparable to trying to take over the world and practice genocide. Does the snark go both ways? Yes, I've heard it from the other camp as well. However, the "period (X) is no fun at all IT'S NOT IT'S NOT IT'S NOT!" camp is, in my experience, frequently nastier and more pervasive than the other. Peaceful coexistence is just not sufficient for some people. Anyone who disagrees must be banished or something.

Michael Graff said...

As a volunteer at watch, I did see a lot of people with radios. Some of this is necessary to ensure things run smoothly with the distances involved. You could send a runner to fetch information from info point, or you could use the radio and have an answer in seconds. The watch had three patrol carts, one deputy on duty cart, two parking enforcement carts, and one shared cart between the watch commanders. Many of the others are from other departments and I cannot say how important they are. Many departments get a cart when needed, and otherwise it sits behind motor pool.

Radios are obnoxious in that they basically needed to be near maximum volume to be heard. Perhaps taking up a collection to replace them with earbud style would help, if the units can use them. Another option is to ensure that when attending certain functions, one is off radio and departments have office hours, where they just are not on radio.

At a smaller convention I helped run, we had a radio message board, each person turned their radio off after calling in to say they were off radio, and when signing back on we're told if there were messages to pick up. This greatly reduced radio traffic, as did the rule that only one person in a job area had a radio on, if they were within hearing distance.

Btw, I am sure that a human powered cart to take people around would be well received, but not well staffed. :)

Unknown said...

But then, there are these folk:

BMT said...

"Recent Years" Should be clearly defined as "the last 25 or 30 years." I know that efforts to be more time-travel and less fantasy have been going on at least as long as that.

Anonymous said...

I've been in the Society since 1987, and have lived in both the Midrealm and An Tir. When I lived in the Middle Kingdom, I attended Pennsic almost annually. Now that I live 2K miles away, I manage to go every few years if I am lucky, with a good 10 year lapse between my second and third trips.

While of course attempts at period ambiance add to the experience, I think we need to remember that things such as security, medical oversight, aging members, and just pure cultural *drift* all mean that Pennsic, a small town of 12,000, is not going to be the same as Nice in 1423 or Florence in 1588 or Londinium in 765. We already MELD 1000 years together on a regular basis, so I truly think your outrage at seeing a few mundane behaviors and tools is a bit on the hypocritical side.

David Friedman said...

" It is only in recent years that there's been a spreading group of pedants who insist on fantasy being divorced from the SCA."

I do not believe that is correct. While there have always been people in the SCA who saw it in terms of fantasy, I cannot remember any time in the past 40+ years when that was the generally accepted view. Criticisms of elf ears and the like got back at least several decades.

I'm puzzled as to what preferring a historical basis to a fantasy basis has to do with pedantry. You might as well argue that people who preferred the rules of bridge to the rules of Whist, or baseball to townball, were pedants.

David Friedman said...

"so I truly think your outrage at seeing a few mundane behaviors and tools is a bit on the hypocritical side. "

As I tried to make clear, what I chiefly object to is not mundanity that has practical motivation, such as powered wheelchairs for those who need them, but mundanity for display--making a point of doing strikingly out of period things.

So far as hypocrisy, would that not be a more appropriate charge for Pennsic staff who, at the same event, instruct people that “You can keep a trailer in your encampment for storage or living space, but it must be disguised to look period” and themselves engage in a strikingly out of period public display--the poster I provided a photograph of--because they think it is cute?

Anonymous said...

Pennsic has swiftly fell from being a "SCA event". To most of those not in the SCA this is a ren faire, medieval burning man, and reenactment gathering. I have seen Steampunkers, Sci fi fans even cosplayers wandering the grounds. i know that several real life Gorean groups use the event as a main gathering place for a year celebration. Groups such as the Empire of Medieval Pursuits and Amphgard have come in more numbers as well.

I have long since given up on being upset that Pennsic War is a "SCA" event and treat it more like one huge public demo and i find myself having a lot more fun.

In the end this is a hobby, it is meant to be fun and educate so instead of complaining have fun and educate. I personally loved the tongue and cheek Hitchhikers theme. There are more than enough 'strict' period SCA events and happenings.

side note as a golf cart user i can tell you if i did not have one there is no way i could do this (or many other) larger events. i went as far as to purchase my own so even with my disability i can continue to enjoy going to events.

KellyK said...

Matthew Hooper, it seems pretty uncharitable to be bothered by mobility scooters. (Though I agree with you that the ones disguised as horses are fantastic.) Should someone who has trouble walking be expected to drop out of the SCA?

As far as how someone who has trouble walking sets up a camp, I'm sure most either have a pretty simple camp set up or get help from other people. And, depending on the disability, someone might be able to help put up a tent but not able to walk half a mile to attend a class.

But unless you're camping with them, how they manage isn't really your concern. (And even then, only if they ask for or expect your help.)

Matthew Hooper said...

I do feel that someone who can't manage to walk across site might want to consider not coming to a week long camping event where temperatures can reach 90, yes. That's not at all the same thing as quitting the SCA - there are many short event held in far less strenuous circumstances Society wide. But I can barely navigate some hills at Cooper's in my pickup truck. How they manage on a scooter I'll never know.

Jonathan Blackbow said...

"Keep in mind that the SCA started as a graduation party for a Lit major; in the early years, there was as much fantasy as fact. It is only in recent years that there's been a spreading group of pedants who insist on fantasy being divorced from the SCA."

If the SCA wants to become officially what it seems to be turning into unofficially, that's okay by me. But if that's going to happen, change the bylaws of the SCA, and stop insisting on "an attempt". Call it the Society for Creative Anachronism, and let the chips fall where they may.

Unknown said...

Thank you.

Kate the Wicked said...

I have 2 friends in camp who are on mobility scooters. Matthew Hooper your attitude quite frankly sucks. How would you like it if someone told *you* not to come to war because of a health issue?

Charles Alderson, Archivist said...

David, I feel your pain and appreciate your position on period interactions. One of the highlights of my 40 years in the SCA was a late night conversation between a traveling North African gem merchant and the third son of a minor south German baron who had gone crusading in Sicily (me). Both disclaiming on the significance of a comet (Halley's Comet) which was visible overhead. Both also struggling to understand the reference frame of the other's discourse and terms.
Alas, I think that Pennsic has become the preferred venue for many groups, of which, the SCA is just one. A bigger Pennsic is not the answer, maybe a bigger Golden Circle.

Astridr said...

Well written article your Grace. I too found it dismaying that the folks in charge this year decided to "promote" the mundane by their actions and the chosen "theme". I am less bothered when individuals choose "fun" over accuracy (even in examples such as this, where there isn't even an attempt at being medieval, or a justifiable health or safety reason for having the modern item, but rather a prominent display of modernity simply for the sake of "fun") than when the organizers choose to institutionalize it. It is definitely hypocrisy to make rules but then neglect to follow them yourself. Setting a bad example is never in fashion.

Am also greatly amused at some of the comments in which folks are trying to teach you the history of the SCA or of Pennsic - ROFL.

Anonymous said...

I too lament the inclusion of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy references to this year's Pennsic. Such things are as unwelcome as the elf ears, mad-max reject outfits, neon lights, et cetera.

However, I also find the whole "speaking forsoothly" "persona-playing" bit equally eye-roll worthy. If I wanted to play a character I'd join a LARP. As long as it's an opt-in activity I can ignore it painlessly, but it does seem awfully silly. YMMV.

Power Child said...

Reading the post and the comments provides a pretty good picture of the situation, even for someone like me who has never been involved in anything like SCA and hasn't read HGttG. Here are my random reactions.

Several commenters on this blog have addressed David Friedman as Your Grace, which I assume is how he's addressed when "in period." But right now, he's not in period, he's writing on his blog--one of the most non anachronistic things he could be doing--so how is calling him Your Grace any more appropriate here than a "42" or "Don't panic" joke is at Pennsic?

By the way, how specific is the intended period at Pennsic? I think about how much things changed between 1991 and 1996, for different might things have been between 1100 and 1450? Or between Sweden and Italy? If the anachronism in question is simply the vague "Medieval" period with a presumptive emphasis on European sensibilities, then doesn't that open the door for all sorts of potentially distasteful combinations and contortions?

The most obvious solution to David's problem is to stop going to mass organized events like Pennsic. Instead, he should plan smaller outings of just a few families, where the period to which they aspire is more narrowly defined. This is ideal if the objective is just to live simply and primitively and forget that the year is 2013 for a few days. Lots of time can be spent out under the stars pondering an existence 5-10 centuries ago with others who enjoy pondering the same thing. Sounds pretty cool to me.

Just make sure you don't invite people who aren't on the same page. Those are the ones you'll catch whipping out their smartphones and poisoning the whole experience.

Let Pennsic become more like a Renaissance Fair, where you attend in street clothes and take in demonstrations, classes, comedy shows, etc. If that's what the organizers and vendors and performers need it to be so they can continue doing what they do, then so be it.

I don't see how the issue of mobility/comfort is resolvable, either. The truth is, 500-1000 years ago in Europe people didn't live very long, and their short lives were full of physical discomfort and arduous chores. Well-designed, durable everyday products were beyond most people's attainment. Foul smells and foul thoughts abounded.

I'm guessing nobody at Pennsic pretends to be illiterate, or infected with the plague, or suffering from advanced malnutrition--even though these were normal for many people 5-10 centuries ago in Europe. Instead, it sounds like even SCA purists choose to resurrect only those aspects of bygone times which they find appealing, usually with what I perceive to be romantic and sentimental overtones.

I find that perfectly reasonable (best is the enemy of good, etc.) but that establishes a slope, and it sounds like there needs to be some clearly defined rules to avoid succumbing to its slipperiness, or else abandon the hill altogether.

David's rule makes sense: "Regard mundane conveniences as a necessary evil to be minimized but not eliminated—while at the same time using the problem of how to minimize them, how to provide period alternatives, as a valuable spur to learning more about how medieval people lived." But can it be implemented? If so, is there the will to implement it?

David Friedman said...

Anonymous writes:

" There are more than enough 'strict' period SCA events and happenings."

Where and when do those happen? In my experience, while many SCA events have less obvious mundanity than Pennsic, few or none are "strict period." The usual rule, as you probably know, is that the only period requirement is some attempt at pre-17th century garb.

David Friedman said...

Matthew is puzzled as to how people navigate hills at Pennsic on disability scooters. As best I can tell, quite a lot of them don't. One option for people with limited ability to move, whether on foot or on a scooter, is to camp somewhere such as the Serengetti, which is reasonably flat and lets them get to a substantial part of Pennsic without going up or down hills.

That, unfortunately, means that such people can't camp with us or attend my bardic circle, but they can still do a lot of other things.

David Friedman said...

To answer some of Power Child's queries:

1. SCA period is pre-17th century. The focus is on western Europe, societies that interacted with it are clearly included (the Islamic world, eastern Europe), and in practice that gets stretched to include more distant societies such as Japan, in theory because there was some tiny amount of interaction, in practice more because that's the game a significant number of people want to play.

2. The solution I have been promoting and practicing for several decades now is to have an encampment at Pennsic within which all participants agree to stay in persona and not have things that are both obviously and unnecessarily out of period. That isn't a standard I expect the rest of Pennsic to follow.

3. I don't see a problem with someone using my SCA titles in comments on a blog page. A blog doesn't face the problem of maintaining the illusion that it is in the 21st century in the way in which an SCA event faces the problem of maintaining the illusion that it isn't.

4. Some people in the SCA do pretend to be illiterate, but not a lot.

William H. Stoddard said...

Over the years, the San Diego Comic-Con has gone from being a fairly tightly comics-focused event to being a major venue for film and television show publicity, including publicity for releases that have little to do with comics. At this point the biggest names are the con are often actors or directors. I still look in on it—I'm in San Diego, and I count as a pro—but I don't regard it as a particularly fannish event.

I think there may be a general pattern of focus drift for events that draw high attendance. It's so easy to forget Heinlein's point about not including a bathtub when you build an electric motor.

Power Child said...


1. Isn't having so vast a scope basically asking for trouble, mundanity- and authenticity-wise? Why not narrow it to one century and to only western Europe? Maybe even that is too broad.

2. Indeed, the problem crops up any time you leave your encampment. Tragedies of the commons sure do abound, don't they.

3. I didn't point this out because I think it's a problem, but rather to underline the curious and amusing phenomenon of people who are unhappy with an inconsistency in one context but unnecessarily introduce an inversion of that same inconsistency in another context.

4. My point here was that even the SCA purists are already cherrypicking medieval experiences at a high ratio of aspects foregone to aspects recreated. Again, this is not a criticism in itself (best is opposite of good), but an indication that the whole thing is built on a slippery slope. My question was whether you think your suggested guidelines, which I quoted and consider reasonable, could be implemented across this large event.

Linda Anfuso said...

Matthew Hooper:
your comments are very hurtful.

Pennsic is so important to me that I have made great and costly accommodations in my life to be able to attend. My choice, my life.

This has been my 38th Pennsic. My little house (The Guild of Limners) and Claus'Toy Shop were built to accommodate my disability, Muscular Dystrophy. The folks at Pennsic have, over the years, been very kind in making reasonable modifications to their policies to make it possible for me to continue to enjoy the event and be a merchant at Pennsic. Most of those accommodations are invisible to the public because we have gone through great pains to disguise them so as not to have the sight of them intrude on the ambiance which we are trying to maintain.

I have in the past disguised my scooter as a horse, this year I literally didn't have the time to do it. If anyone wants to take a half hour at the beginning of war next year to help me put it together, please do so, so that your senses won't be offended by the sight of me buzzing off to walk my service dog or teach a class.

It takes the assistance of 3 paid employees for us to set up and break down our selling site, 2 full time employees to help us run it, and it takes 3 days to set up and 3 days to break down. I don't know how other people with disabilities do it. They probably have their own support network, assistants, aids, etc, to enable them to do what they love to do at Pennsic.

I had my little building constructed so I can continue to enjoy Pennsic despite the limitations which my disability imposes on me. It was the first such building on a trailer constructed at Pennsic and is the blue print for many others. I try, to the best of my knowledge of history, to recreate a "luckinbooth" shop which you might have encountered in a market fair in the year 1600 in London. I have a very strict standard for myself regarding the appearance of my shop and the items which I sell. My modern scooter is stored out of public sight in the back.

I was initially puzzled, then amused, by the Hitchhiker themed token, then I tied it on my belt and forgot about it. The sign was silly, I ignored it. As I try to ignore the very many cars and trucks which make daily ice runs and park in front of my house to do so. I ignore the lit up soda machines, the cash registers in the new store in the barn, the many golf carts, the garish portapotties , etc. I do make use of the modern toilets and showers. And I am grateful that I live in an age and in a place where I can enjoy them.

Pennsic is what you made it for yourself. I consider that I am visiting a strange town fair where there are people from all over the world with odd customs and clothing. I am there to sell my parchment, ink, pigments and tools of the Limner's trade to those who require them. I have friends there whom I see only at this one event. I teach my skills, I sell my wares, I play my harp. That's what you see. You do not see that I can only spend about 4-6 hours daily sitting up, that the rest of the time I am flat on my back in my period bed in my little house.

Matthew Hooper: you have been blessed with a body that functions. Be grateful for it. It may not always be like this for you. You are uncharitable and mean spirited to suggest that I should not attend Pennsic because I cannot walk across the camp or climb the hill in 90 degree heat.

I proprose the following, Matthew: next year you yourself take me on a personal tour of what you love the most about Pennsic. We will share our favorite Pennsic memories, visit the Runestone, go around the lake,enjoy the view from the top of Mount Eislinn (do you even know why we call it that?), visit the Enchanted Ground and listen to some stories and songs. One caveat: you must push my wheelchair. All over camp.

TPW said...

Been a long time since I went to war, and I was annoyed by such things every time. Try harder to pretend to be medieval, that's all. Anachronisms are creative, not because you're clever, but because you need to find a way to creatively explain them if you need them . . . like, for example, mobility scooters. Never a good excuse to use a phone in a public part of Pennsic.

I love Douglas Adams, and I would have laughed at the medallion joke . . . if it had been tasteful and classy. Petunias would have been a subtle nod. "Don't Panic" was hamhanded and led to further, more hanhanded jokes.

As a side note, I once did war as an elf. I couldn't figure out how to hide the ears magically so I kept my head covered the entire time, lest I be burned as a demon. It's called roleplaying, and respecting the rules of the game you're playing. Fantasy players who don't get it are as bad as Reebok warriors.

Just try harder to look and sound medieval. If you're not into that, why are you at an SCA event? I stopped going mostly because people spend all their time talking about modern things, and I have more respect for the SCA than that.

David Friedman said...

Power Child:

1: There are groups with a much narrower focus within our time period but I believe they are all much smaller. And a lot of interests cut across time and space in different ways. If you are interested mainly in making armor, you have more in common with an armorer from a century earlier than with a tailor from your century.

3. People are unhappy not with an inconsistency but with an inconsistency that has undesirable effects. That is no reason to be unhappy with an inconsistency that has no such effects, for the reason I already pointed out.

4. I doubt that the guidelines I suggest could be imposed on other people, but some people can be persuaded to impose them on themselves, which is part of what essays like this one are trying to do.

Rebecca Friedman said...


If you want help setting up, I can always drop by and help. My camp only takes so long, and when it's done first week I don't have many obligations.

Sorry for off-topic, but wanted to say that.

Everyone else,

I've grown up at Pennsic. Maybe there are pockets of not-SCA in places I don't usually go; there are certainly pockets of activities that have nothing to do with the SCA. (At least, I've seen amazing numbers of people wearing... I think they're called glowsticks? Usually late at night, I assume they're connected to a party.) But saying Pennsic isn't an SCA event is just untrue. Have you ever been to the dance tent, late Second Week when they're having a ball? Period or period-ish food, period clothes, period dances - everything but in persona, which honestly you can't expect from the SCA as a whole. It's as SCA as any event I've been to. Pennsic is a big event, and that means it can be a lot of things to a lot of different people. But that doesn't mean only the out-of-period ones are valid experiences.


Rebecca Friedman/bint Cariadoc

Power Child said...

It's all very fascinating. When I hear about events where you try to recapture the experience of living in another time and place (in this case medieval Europe), I think,

"If a time machine dropped me into a medieval existence that is statistically likely given my own ancestry (Eastern European/West Asian and Jewish), what would that be like?"

Probably not very fun. Lots of dreary farming--maybe subsistence farming--with inadequate tools. Lots of hunger. Lots of cold. Lots of ignorance. Lots of fear. Bland food that was scarce and monotonous. What little entertainment existed was very drab compared to what I'm used to.

Removing the constraint of my own personal ancestry, things don't improve. I'd almost certainly be illiterate. Maybe I'd believe in some strange pagan gods. Maybe I'd think witches or Jews or, if I were lucky enough to be a royal scientist, the misalignment of planets were the cause of rampant disease and malnutrition, or the high incidence of infant mortality, or the fact that so many 13-year-old brides were dying in childbirth.

The basic lesson is that to make anachronistic play enjoyable, you have to take a lot of liberties. Then you have to put a cap on liberties taken so that the play remains anachronistic.

It's a complex and Sisyphian undertaking, especially once participation reaches into the quadruple digits or higher. David, good luck. I hope you can continue to find it worthwhile.

Power Child said...

PS. The worst part about being dropped into medieval Europe via a time machine wouldn't be the sharp drop in one's own quality of life--though that part would be horrific--but the fact that one would have to interact entirely with other people whose health, hygiene, and intellect was in an equally miserable state! One would have to suffer their governance, their culture, their vulgarities...

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that what draws people to period play isn't the "period" so much as the "play." Thus, entropy from the former to the latter is probably inevitable.

Once again, David, I salute your attempts to rein it in.

Melanie Unruh said...

David's [1] thoughts adequately mirror mine own, and are a cogent explanation of why I have never been to Pennsic. Estrella has been bad enough, and it's closer to me. I admire those who are able to simply gloss over the more mundane aspects of any event. I can't. So I spare myself the drama.
Instead, I personally try to create as much of a non-modern environment in my camp, and maintain a household of like-minded folk. We also work outside the SCA, because we can't quite get the right mojo at a SCA event. Notably, we set up pretty good examples of tables or camps, invite people to come visit, and shove yummy period foods at them. (Eat this! You'll love it!) Yes, I have a reproduction of a 14th cent alms purse that's sized to my cell phone, but you aren't likely ever see me use the contents... unless you follow me into my tent or the bathroom.
I do have to point out that I have been aware of an authenticity movement for as long as I've been in the SCA (over 25 years), and largely introduced to me by a gent known as Cariadoc of the Bow. ;-) It's nothing new, although perhaps not many have been aware of us.

Maintaining that we started as fantasy as some sort of apology remaining so, eliminates the natural evolution of an organization. Of course, it could have gone more fantasy, but I think that we've seen a lot of fantasy organizations that have developed from SCA roots. Likewise, the more historically-minded medievalists have also formed smaller groups. Each side seems to view us with derision - "stuffy!" say the fantasy folk; "sloppy" say the medievalists. Really, David's opinions are pretty centrist - not making the best the opposite of the good, simply trying to stretch ourselves a little for the common good. Why does this irritate people so much?

Otherwise, I too am amused at those who would school one such as this blogger in the graces and history of the SCA.

[1] I deliberately address this to the actual person who writes this blog, since I'm pretty sure that Cariadoc would be fairly bewildered by the very concepts herein...

Anonymous said...

Brendan the Bard here. 30 years in Ansteorra, Northshield, and Midrealm. Hosted the bardic activities at TYC. First Penssic was X, have been able to go a couple more times since, including last year. Cariadoc was a legend way back then.

I'm faintly amused at PowerChild posting at such length when he (or she?) knows nothing about the SCA and hasn't read the book. Why on earth would you wade into a conversation when you know *nothing* about what's being discussed?

We each play the game a different way. Cariadoc goes all-in. David wears glasses; Cariadoc is terribly nearsighted (hence, he's a gem merchant). I don't quite go that far, but the times I have been privileged to sit in his encampment have been truly wonderful.

Most of the time the SCA is a kickin' costume party with a bunch of really interesting, well-read people who also make and do really cool stuff. And at times, it really IS time travel - and Cariadoc facilitates that greatly.

Some of the most fun times I've had have been interacting in persona. I once shared a feast table with a Spaniard. He had never heard of Cuhillain or the Finn Mac Cumhail. I averred that I have never heard of El Cid (despite having seen the movie a couple of times). We passed a very pleasant hour sharing the hero-tales of our respective cultures.

The SCA is a shared, voluntary delusion. We willfully ignore the eyeglasses and modern hairstyles. We imagine that the plastic cafeteria chairs and folding tables are benches and trestle tables, and pretend that the cinderblock walls of the church basement are hewn stone.

But rope lights? Really?

FWIW I was very glad for all the Facebook posts - it made me more determined to arrange to go next year!

Power Child said...

@Brendan the Bard:

I've been reading this blog for 2-3 years, so I know approximately whatever else David has written about SCA on here in that time. That's not enough information to qualify me as an honorary participant obviously, but it is enough to get a decent picture of what SCA is basically about and what it's like at an event (at least through David's eyes). Maybe David would agree.

The dilemma at the heart of this particular blog post is something many people can relate to: integrity/authenticity vs. appeal/accessibility. I've noticed this same dilemma in a lot of other contexts, and I've spent a lot of time thinking and writing about it.

Also, I'm fascinated by what other times and places were like. I pursue this fascination mainly by reading competing accounts of history and by looking at pictures of artifacts, so it's interesting to hear how other people with that same fascination pursue it via immersive reenactment. I find the hurdles and benefits to this method of pursuit interesting too.

I don't mean my comments here to be intrusive or offensive, and I hope you don't feel intruded upon or offended by them. While my intuition is strong, I know I am relatively ignorant. If I make a statement that is incorrect, correct me. If I am unwittingly trampling on something you consider worthy of respect, let me know and I will move my feet.

If you feel that this discussion should be off-limits to people who don't participate in SCA, you could suggest that David filter the comments accordingly. If he did, I would understand.

Cairenn said...

It has been far too long since I went to Pennsic. One major reason is the mobility issue. I will need a scooter to get around. (btw--a bad hit while fighting is what started my mobility issues).

I have learned to do my best to overlook a lot of mundanities at events, especially larger ones. Pennsic has been a gathering for a lot of non SCA folks for many years. I wonder how many of those folks did check out the Enchanted Ground and discovered the magic it has?

My local event uses a very mundane site and I miss the magic of the 'walkovers' that used to happen at the more primitive site. I don't miss the bright plastic port a privies, the multiple turned ankles, the medical issues from the heat, fire ant bites and such (the mundane site has electricity so there is some cooling available and an AC hall), the lack of showers and many other things. We are older and many conditions that were tolerable when we are young are now not.

Let's try to reduce mundanity when we can, and ignore it at others.

It has been years, but I will never forget the peer that jumped a lady for having a can or Coke showing while the peer was wearing her 'cloth of gold' coat--gold lame.

Roderic Hawkyns said...

I love and support the authenticity movement. I've been called authenticity police often enough and even embrace the term (badge no. 1588). That said, there are compromises and concessions that have to be made. Above and beyond the mobility carts, golf carts, radios, porta-loos, etc., there is the problem of personas that don't get along. My persona is of an English Border Reiver, in 1595. We prey on everybody, are the roughest of the rough, thoroughly enjoy the feuding, and have NO regard for authority, other than the head of our clan or the many who pays us. Obviously, this is not conducive to the ideals of the Society. Knifing someone and lifting their purse in the dark, or demanding blackmail from the next camp would not, I think, be well received. So, there are yet more things to be overlooked. That does not mean I won't play in the Society, or disregard the concept of doing things in period and persona. It just means I have to think carefully about where I am, who I'm with, and what I can get away with. All the time trying to think as my persona would.
Roderic Hawkyns, Captayne General of Artillery

David Friedman said...


I think you exaggerate the problems of personae that don't get along. If you look at period sources, it's clear that Christians and Muslims in Outremer, or Norse and Irish in Ireland, did get along--sometimes. All you need to explain your not attacking your neighbors is the fact that it's imprudent, since you would be heavily outnumbered--roughest of the rough doesn't imply stupid.

So it sounds as though what you are doing is in persona, and does not involve any compromises.

Unknown said...

My view is that Pennsic is open to anyone, and that is the fun of the SCA. We don't have to audition. We don't have to spend exorbitant amounts on expensive period garb. It is enough to simply try.

However, while I have come to accept the beginners and the fourteen-year-olds and the college students not making every attempt to be period, it disappoints me very much when those who are expected to set a good example neglect to do so. For instance, I saw more than one tin hat walking around at Pennsic 42 with a crown that had flashing lights on the tips. I couldn't believe that someone who had risen high enough in the SCA to be given accolades for their participation would blatantly disrupt the period atmosphere in such a noticeable and obnoxious way.

Elsa said...

I've long given up expecting to see others play the game at any certain level. I, too, have begun leaving my glasses off and find that my experience is enhanced for it. I don't expect magic during the day, but some nights when I'm wandering around and the drums are throbbing and I smell meats cooking as I pass camps and there's the moon just barely ready to rise over the trees and a few more camps away is Enchanted Ground where many people are gathered around a night-fire... well, those are the magic moments that will always keep me coming back.

Unknown said...

The SCA/BOD need to grow a set... Pennsic-con is a joke, 10% of the best 90% of the rest. Heck, they can't even keep the Tuchux out and they are a fantasy group who cares for nothing in the SCA. Take the power back or flush the event. Enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

I support you Grace 1000%. In answer th those who want fantasy in their SCA, please read our governing documents. We are pre 1600s Western EUROPEAN NOBLE TOURNIMENT CULTURE. If you don't want to attempt to portray that, then with respect, go find a another game to play. We lost Pennsic when the Coopers figured out there was money to be made. Now it is a "camping Con" the best thing the SCA could do is have a war during the same time, at another site and enforce society rules. For that matter we could all use some enforcement at even local levels.

Anonymous said...

Let's remember that David's original complaint was about UNNECESSARY, GRATUITOUS modernities. If you can't participate in the event without a scooter, or without a refrigerator for your medications, those are "necessary" modernities. Having a few golf carts for Pennsic staff to quickly get to the location of a crisis is necessary. Having modern medical equipment and supplies at Chirurgeon's Point, and an ambulance on standby during battles, is necessary. Having enough privies (whether flushies or porta-potties) to service 10,000 people without a sanitation disaster is necessary.

Hitchhiker's Guide jokes in the official site booklet, on the official site tokens, and at the official lost-and-found station
are not in any way "necessary". The majority of the golf carts driving around the site are not "necessary". Lighting a whole camp with black-lights visible from a hundred yards away is not "necessary". Talking about "catching a ride in the belly of a dragon" is not "necessary". These things are done not in order to visit the Middle Ages, nor in order to achieve a practical end, but specifically in order to distance oneself from the Middle Ages.

Anonymous said...

Wow...many, many comments on this thread. But I'll post my perspective as a parent, because it seems to have been missed.

Yes, there is some greying in the society, but bring your baby/toddler/child to War also seems to be getting more common. I used to be dedicated to doing as many things Period as I possibly could afford to do. I would go to the privy with a tiny candlestick instead of a flashlight (Back when there was something to rest it on). I would light the dining table and the table in my tent with many candles. But there comes a point, especially when bringing a rambunctious toddler to War, that you have to forgo Periodness for safety and convenience. At home children do not have constant exposure to the way of life we attempt to recreate at War, and so they are not familiar with the rules of safety around such things. Even a propane lantern can be scary around a child. It is difficult to both enjoy your War, watch over your children, AND teach them in a single week everything they would have known in Period. So out come the flashlights and glowsticks. It was difficult enough to teach him to stay away from the firepit and stay in camp behind only sheet walls (that was nigh impossible), and to not play with the implements in the kitchen that were accessible. Sometimes bringing that plastic wagon to War is all you can afford, but still totally necessary. I saw many new parents at War this year. I feel for them now in a way I never could understand before. My family really enjoyed our vacation, and we'd like to keep participating in the SCA even with little ones, but unfortunately that means a small amount of sacrifice on the part of everyone else.

- Tired Mother of the cute redheaded boy you saw in the Marketplace

David Friedman said...

Re the perspective as a parent post ... .

I also was struck by the number of small children. There may well be cases where having small children requires compromises that wouldn't be required otherwise, but I think fewer than you suggest. I've managed Pennsic for a long time with neither flashlight nor candle lantern, since neither seems necessary in practice--and small children will probably be in bed by the time it gets fully dark.

My wife runs a class/discussion each year on babies at Pennsic, discussing the general issues. Both of our children attended Pennsic from birth, in our encampment, and this year the Enchanted Ground had a four year old and a one and a half year old among its residents. No propane lanterns, hence no risk from them. Hot pots are a risk whether over a fire or a Coleman stove.

Anonymous said...

I had a few more thoughts to add to my previous comment.

If the SCA were a living-history organization, primarily dedicated to educating the public through demos, I would suggest that people who can't participate without visible modern accommodations simply not participate, and find another hobby.

The SCA is not that, and never has been: since the first event, it's been primarily for the benefit of its members and participants. So if its standards are interpreted in such a way as to discourage participation, the organization is not serving its purpose.

In fact, the SCA has always been very welcoming of the "differently abled". If you need a CPAP, or refrigerated medications, or a motorized wheelchair, or glasses, or toddler-safe artificial lighting, in order to participate, nobody will criticize you for bringing those things. Common courtesy suggests that you make a reasonable effort to keep the obvious modernities out of sight so you don't impinge on other people's experience (I remember how impressed I was with Linda's shop and equiform scooter when I first saw them twenty-mumble years ago!), but you are entirely within your rights to use them.

What David was complaining about is the opposite: modernities that are not necessary to enable anybody's participation, and that are not only not "out of sight", but intentionally conspicuous.

Why would people do things at a medieval-themed event that are obviously, unnecessarily, and conspicuously non-medieval? One reason is to say "See, I'm not one of those horrible stuffy authenticity Nazis I keep hearing about but have never actually met." More often, I suspect, it's intended not to separate us from the Middle Ages but from "mainstream" modern culture, and for this purpose anything "weird" will do: steampunk, F/SF fandom, cosplay, BDSM, arr-arr pirates, wargaming, etc. Talking about "my halflings riding in the belly of a dragon," or playing the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club on a bagpipe from the castle ramparts, may not make me sound like a medieval person, but it certainly makes me sound like not a boring, mundane, square, modern person, which is the real goal for many people.

The problem is that for the substantial minority of the SCA who do want to feel like they're visiting the Middle Ages, the same "weird" modernities that separate you from the "mainstream" modern world also serve to separate you, and everyone around you, from the Middle Ages. In asserting your own non-mundanity, you've popped somebody else's bubble of disbelief-suspension and forced them back into the modern world.

David Friedman said...

Continuing the subthread on children at Pennsic ...

Like many other things, children raise interesting challenges in how to do things we are used to doing, but in a not obviously out of period way. Our kids liked playing with lego figures. I had lots of scrap leather, so my wife drew, and I made, leather animals--lions, wolves, and horses, those being what our children said they wanted. Each animal was a sandwich--head, body and tail in the middle layer, legs and body on the outer layer. I still have them, and gave some away to kids camped near us at Pennsic a year ago. I thought of disposing of the rest this year--but it looks as though my grandchildren may be coming next year,so I decided to save them for them.

Our kids had stuffed animals, which were not strictly period but not obviously out of period. I made a tent for the animals--a miniature of the children's geteld. For a period toy for small children, consider a hobby horse.

David Friedman said...

My daughter, reading my most recent post, objects that the figures they played with weren't legos. Some were by duplo, which is the same company but a different name, and some were by playmobile.

The risk of producing in-house critics.

Tibor said...


I don't think most people who enjoy BDSM actually show that off (as long as they don't also have a exhibitionism fetish) in public. But maybe I am nitpicking right now.

Anyway this SCA seems interesting. I know a couple of people in my country who do something similar. But they are mostly into celts (I prefer "gauls", but they certainly don't :)) and so are even further back in history. I don't know how much roleplaying they do at their events though. I would like to give it a try to see if I like it, but I prefer the ancient world (before the collapse of the west Rome...and the Roman republic above all...Marcus Porcius Cato was just an adorable person :)) to the middle ages and I don't think there even are any groups anywhere who do that in the scope of the SCA and definitely there are none (even smaller) here. I only know of some groups who play the Roman army (and often their equipment looks quite terrible and they always wear red for which there is really little to none historical evidence...apart from movies :)), but that is a bit different than "simulating" the whole era experience. I can see how that can be appealling. Playing a greek merchant for example and having a late night discussion with a travelling Parthian noble or something like that, if the illussion were believeable, would be fantastic.

Unknown said...

Thank you Your Grace for bringing up what is a very important topic. I've been in the SCA since I was 18, and my first Pennsic was 26, it was magical. I then went to Pennsic 30, and refuse to go now because it's not even giving a nod to the precepts of the SCA. When I was first introduced to society, it was considered courtly to refrain from using a modern appliance if not absolutely necessary, and the experience was the better for it. Photo's were taken only with the subjects permission, phones were used out of sight, cars were parked in the parking lot unless loading/unloading. I have never had any problem with modern items that are needed (so that all can play the game) and within camp boundaries, if a coleman stove makes cooking easier, then as long as it's out of sight it's out of my mind. (I personally prefer the period encampments!) It's the balance that is missing now...Pennsic 30 made me sick. We had selfish individuals who were taking pictures at night of the dancers many of the dancers were scantily clad...and that didn't bother me because it was in a walled encampment and honestly it's rather enjoyable for most people) without permission and when confronted with what they were doing I was rudely informed that since it was this individuals vacation just as much as mine, and that he could do what he wanted. He also informed me that it was his right and intention to post the photos on the internet. (Photography at war is a bit of a pet peeve for me as it isn't that hard to get permission.) My tangent was meant to illustrate that it goes beyond the usage of unnecessary modern 'toys' and goes to the heart of what, I, at least was taught was one of the core values of the honest attempt to recreate a portion of (the better parts) of medieval history and culture. I was enchanted by witnessing a scene at 26, the courtesy of a peer in beautiful armor on his way to the battlefield stopping to to help a young lady (in imperfect garb...but she really had wasn't a prom dress) up a hill who was carrying a basket too heavy for her. As with so many things it is the small touches, the small things (like runner lights on a glad I didn't go this year) that can either make it an amazing event, or make it completely horrible. Is a balance by everyone too much to ask for? Too much to be respectful and courteous? Perhaps the only answer IS to have events where the bi-laws and an attempt at authenticity is appreciated, and if there are some would someone be kind enough to let me know where they are please?

David Friedman said...


My conclusion, many years ago, was that fixing either the SCA or Pennsic was not doable. What is doable is to come to Pennsic and interact, so far as possible, with people who share my view of the game we are playing, to treat Pennsic not as the game but as the recruiting ground, so to speak. The Enchanted Ground, my Pennsic encampment, is part of that strategy--a group of people who agree to stay in persona and avoid obvious and unnecessary mundanities when inside the encampment and outside their own tents. The attempt to start a track of in persona classes at the university, which my daughter organized on a small scale this year and plans to organize on a larger scale next, is another part.

THLord Stefan li Rous said...

"Radios are obnoxious in that they basically needed to be near maximum volume to be heard. Perhaps taking up a collection to replace them with earbud style would help, if the units can use them. Another option is to ensure that when attending certain functions, one is off radio and departments have office hours, where they just are not on radio. "

There may be a solution for the obnoxious radios, but it will be several months till it is available, and it isn't cheap.

There is a recently/currently funding kickstarter project for a headpiece that conducts the sound by bone conduction. This means you can head what the radio is saying even in high noise environments, but no one else can. Unless you hold it against a hollow box or some such. As I said rather expensive at ~$125 - $200. But many individuals might buy their own.

The radios would need a headphone socket and maybe an adapter.

It is "sound band" on kickstarted.

Yes, it is more mundanity. But it is easily hidden.

THLord Stefan li Rous Barony of Bryn Gwlad Kingdom of Ansteorra
Mark S. Harris Austin, Texas
**** See Stefan's Florilegium files at: ****

Anonymous said...

I have been around the SCA since 1986, and wow... has it ever changed. So much so that I have stopped attending... well, everything.

Not to go on a rant or start anything new on this thread, but I have to agree with those that think going period is better than going Sci-Fi. But even at Pennsic, there is a time and place for pointy ears.. (I recall that there used to be great 'costume parties' and one cold even go to Hell.) I love hearing the Moose Song. I once heard someone playing Free Bird on a bagpipe... okay.. not period.. but fun and it was the short version so we laughed and moved on. These are minor things.. it's the lack of the attempt to make at least a little effort to go as period as one can at an event. Any event.

Does that mean no scooters or golf carts or radios or porta-potties, etc? OF COURSE NOT. (I don't think I could make it without some form of mobility help, myself.) These things are necessary.

But this is not Burning Man or other events of that type. (Nothing against Burning Man.. I'd love to get there one day.) But this is the SCA. Rope lights are right out. Now, cover them with transparent red, orange, and yellow fabric and put them in a fire bowl because there is a fire ban.. cool! Creative. Done.

But aside from the side-shows and such, would it kill folks to throw a blanket over their cooler? Take some extra fabric and toss it over your camp chair? Pour their Extra Caffeine Mountain Dew or Budweiser out of the can and put it in a goblet? Step to the side to take a phone call...heck, just use a piece of fabric to cover your cell phone when you need to make that call?

It has always amazed me how when folks were asked to go that tiny little step to "go period", they freak. "I play my way. Deal." I mean geesh... one spends hundreds of dollars on garb and hangs a cell phone from their belt. I've seen very expensive pavilions with circa 1972 webbed camp chairs parked in front. I would think one would want to TRY to go period, I mean, why else would one want to attend a medieval event?

I'm not crazy about Pennsic-Con... but even the little things folks could do would help.

The part about ATTEMPTING to go period seems to have been lost.

And so, therefore, am I lost as well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting in that I was following your blog, and your miscellany for years before I connected all of the dots. Small universe.

My usual approach is to do my best not to break other peoples Enchantment, but not worry too much about people breaking mine.

I suspect this comes from *COUGHS* years of doing music and theatre. I can't force anyone to dance, (or even pay attention) believe I'm Inspector Rooney or Pish Tush or or Costard or...

But if I let the audience mess me up, I'm not doing my job as a performer.

I try to approach my Personal Mobile Enchanted Bubble the same way.

panem et circenses

Anonymous said...

I knew this was where Pennsic was headed years ago. Our family had enough money to possibly go, at last. I started searching on "going to Pennsic" and one of the first hits was a thread that included a complaint about lights in tents. The poster related a story about seeing someone change clothes inside a tent with a light on, so that her silhouette was clearly visible. He did not express dismay at this obvious newbie behavior, or even point and laugh. He expressed his outrage that even though he had used some of his valuable time to stop and watch, it had so happened that she was not of a physical type that aroused him. It had harshed his Pennsic buzz, man. Totally.

Not one post in disagreement. Not one.

We haven't been to Pennsic and I don't plan to go.

Gwen Seis

David Friedman said...


If your requirement is that most of Pennsic do things right by your (and probably my) standards, you shouldn't go.

I decided a long time ago that that objective was unachievable for either Pennsic or the SCA in general. On the other hand, if all I want is to be able to find a considerable number of people at Pennsic who do things right, in one or another of the relevant senses, it looks much better.

One group I discovered Pennsic before last, camped near us, included someone who had made a wooden clock of an in period design--the pendulum clock is apparently just out of period. They had made many of their own tents, much of their furniture, were generally nice, friendly, mature people--largely couples with young children for me to feed gingerbrede to.

It made Pennsic more fun. And there are always people at the Pennsic A&S exhibit doing interesting things.

And, of course, I camp in an in persona encampment where everyone's visible stuff is at least reasonably period in appearance and we are all in persona when inside the boundary.

Anonymous said...

I would like to go to a war confident that the passersby include enough lords and ladies that the dudebros who just show up to score free beer and sex won't be able to do their dudebro thing without one person calling them on it, then or afterward. (Not one person stepped up to say, "But why didn't you call the Watch to let her know? Why didn't you ask a female passerby to let her know? Why didn't you at least shout, 'Milady, you are visible?' Why did you treat this woman's mistake as your free show and then complain when she wasn't the kind that turned you on?" Not one.)

I suspect that if the dudebro (and party grrrrl) quotient is low, the number of rope-lit tents and people insisting on playing with their electronics on the main thoroughfares will also be low.

Gwen Seis

Entity said...


Please remember that the people who post complaints about an event, at least in this day and age where 15 seconds of fame might get you more hits on your website or shares on facebook, are often not worth the time it took to respond to them.

Yes, the man complained because the woman's free show was not to his liking. This reveals that the man was, in colloquial terms, something of a douche-bag. And, with this pivotal fact revealed, his comment can now be discounted. I can assume that no one else on this blog or commentary page said anything to object to his words because they were wise enough to realize he was an attention-whore, that his opinions held no weight, and that they would waste their own time and possibly degrade their own honour by lowering themselves to the level needed to reply to it.

I am not a regular follower of this particular blog, I merely found it today and decided to read it. I have been a member of the SCA for 22 years, and I have heard the name Cariadoc of the Bow, and know him to be an honoured peer of the Society. My counter to all the detractors who claim that we can never aspire to full authenticity for whatever reason, is to remind everyone that the goal of the Society is to recreate the Middle Ages 'as they should have been'. This inherently banishes poverty, strife, and many other unromantic evils. It also reminds us that we refer to the world created by the SCA at events as 'The Dream', and in a dream we often see anachronisms. The greater number of these inhibits our ability to remove ourselves from the here-and-now, which is why we do what we can to remove or hide the necessary things that make it possible for us to attend the event. Everyone's individual dream is different, but the communal Dream is one that should unite us, rather than divide us. It is sad to me when people forget that others have a different definition of their own commitment to creating that Dream, and cannot tolerate this difference.

I am also sad that this one 'douchebag's comments prevent you from attending one of the largest annual convergences of people who all desire to recreate aspects of medieval history. Perhaps if you realize that he is a mote of 'bad' within a gallon of 'good' you may reconsider. Industries such as the media which rely on statistics to learn how the general public feels have long known that a single voice often represents a fraction of the majority.

I have heard it said that the act of giving birth is painful, but mothers will willingly accept and forget it, if it gives them the joy of having a child in their lives. The pain is merely one small aspect of the overall experience. Forgive the perhaps-overwrought metaphor, but please heed my message... While there may be small pains or inconveniences involved in a trip to Cooper's Lake Campground in early August, please do not let these detract from the great 'experience' that is Pennsic War, even if it is difficult to define exactly what Pennsic is. Once you have gone, and experienced it for yourself, you will know.

Yours in Service to the Dream,

- Devon Norwood of Hedgely Moor.

Gerald Loosehelm said...

I tend to agree with the side that tries to make the "SCA experience" one of history and less of sci-fi.
Do not get me wrong! I love my 40's, 50's and 60's pulp sci-fi books and I can quote Monty Python with the best of them out there...
I am in the SCA and that is it. I do not go to cons or other non-SCA events. I am just not interested. I have been trying for some time now to create a period camp of a single Tudor soldier that looks correct. Not easy to do with a limited budget but I am getting there. I am happy to see new members but I will admit to being rather unhappy with elf ears and other 'fantasy' garb. I love history and there is enough to learn and do with out playing make-believe.
If I could be in the Enchanted Ground, I would be. Maybe someday. But until then I am going to concentrate on being as historically correct as I can.

Guillermo Montoya said...

I am new to the SCA, and have only been to Pennsic twice.
I completely agree with you, and completely disagree.

I am (for lack of a better word) enraged when I see elf ears, or even worse, LARPers at Pennsic.
I try my best to be Period.

I am completely enchanted by the campsite commonly known as "Enchanted Ground". They go to great lengths to have a truly Medieval experience. That is something to aspire to.

However, there are certain things we do need that are not Period. I camp in a Mundane tent, because I cannot afford a Period pavilion.
Should I be looked down on, even though I have made an attempt?
I've gone to length to make sure my Persona is as accurate and Period as possible, pouring over old books, talking with Professors and Historians.
Should I be frowned upon because I am new, and my clothes are not EXACTLY the style of time period which my Persona is from?

The Hitchhikers Guide reference at Pennsic 42 was comical. It was not the entire theme of Pennsic, it just happened to be hinted at here and there. To anyone who did not know it, the medallion just had flowers on it.
Do you not get excited when someone in Mundania mentions something in reference to your time period? They are not ruining your Mundane experience by hinting at something in the past.

I agree with you, if it had been a Sci-Fi themed Pennsic, I would NOT have gone. I go for the Medieval aspect, but can we not give credit to those who are TRYING?

Anonymous said...

A few points.

1. The Autocrat has control over several of the things you complain about. Therefore year to year those sorts of things are at the whim of the person in charge. Not all of us like it but we do what the boss says.

2. Radio's and Carts are a necessary evil. When we ask a volunteer to take a cart to deliver some heavy boxes somewhere, we get volunteers. If we ask a volunteer to hand carry some heavy boxes a mile away, we don't get volunteers.

2. Staff has earbuds. They *sound* like a great idea. In practice, they suck. They don't stay in your ear, they get tangled up in your garb, and they hurt after a few hours. A few people use them, most don't.

Most staff shares your sentiments, but your outlook is also rational. We are just not going to get 12,000 people to all have the exact same view. Peer pressure and all of us holding ourselves to a good compromise between what's reasonable and what's desirable is the only answer.

morwenna of North haven said...

On mobility issues: I used to rent a scooter for my mother an a dear friend whowho works for me in my merchant booth. They were ableto go take a shower, do some ssome in and just get out of the booth for a while. Till the year someone else had a greater need and I took up a collection to purchase it for her as a gift. But that is a different tale. After that it was no longer available and my people were back to being dependent on their camp mates. We take care of each other . Mom can no longer attend due to health, but Siobhan runs the booth for me. I would be lost without her.

Candle Lantern said...

A flashlight is a more convenient device than a candle lantern. If we insisted on doing everything in as completely period a way as possible we ...

ollaimh said...

i probably wouldn't go to pennsic as i am a musician and have walking trouble. too much grief to haul instruments and store them and too much walking. a golf cat might help but that seems yucky to me.(are they for rent?)

i am soft on the lights and tents, as many can't afford anything else. i don't have children so i can afford musical instruments and a nice medieval tent. that's about it. i can't go to an event unless i know there will be help setting up--which i have never gotten in advance where i live,(except from non sca people i knew nearby) although when travelling i have. so i only go to one or two events a year while travelling.

i have heard that gulf wars is more accomodating and more authentic, but a looooong way to drive.